Is the BMW M235i a clear, spiritual successor to the 1M, or more closely aligned with the outgoing 135i that wore no M badges at all? Either way, it is next and now in a long line of compact sport coupes from BMW, a legacy that began with the 2002, continued with the original 3 Series, segued to the 1 Series and, now, moves to the 2 Series.
The new BMW M235i has grown in size when compared to the old 1 Series – most of the key dimensions, including interior space, a critical weak spot previously, are now larger. The BMW 2 Series is 72 mm longer and 32 mm wider than the 1 Series Coupe. The wheelbase is 30 mm longer, which has led to an increase in rear seat legroom of 21 mm. The 2 Series also boasts more headroom (by 19 mm), wider tracks and a bigger boot (by 20 litres).
Although there are six different versions of the BMW 2 Series available for the world, only one was made available to journalists at the global media launch in Las Vegas; it’s the M235i, minus the limited availability.
As with its predecessor, the M235i s powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine. As in the 1M (and latest M135i hatchback), this engine produces a stout 450Nm of torque between 1300-4500rpm. And while the power figure may be down – from 250kW to 240kW at 5800-6000rpm – the M235i also weighs less than the 1M, by some 40 kg.
A quick gambol around the outskirts of Las Vegas offered the chance to learn more about the M235i – and served to bring back warm memories of BMW sport coupes past.
The steering is hefty and connected, as all proper BMWs should be. Engineers at BMW have struggled to bring that old feeling to the new electric power steering systems to the 3 Series; here, with the standard variable-ratio system, they have succeeded.
A six-speed manual is standard – it was the only transmission available on 1M – but in Australia the no-cost-option eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters will be the overwhelming pick. It was also the only tranmission available to drive at launch.
Like all new BMWs, the M235i also features selectable driving modes – four in this case, ranging from the most eco-friendly to the most overtly aggressive. The M235i also features automatic start/stop and an eco gauge to help remind commuters to save fuel.
Fuel saving tech is as quickly forgotten as the M235i is quick off the line – the sprint from a standing start to 100 km/h is claimed to take five seconds flat. That said, the car’s acceleration plateaus fairly early. Normally, this would not be a desirable quality, but it serves to make the M235i perfect for those who like driving excitement without the added concern of constantly running afoul of the law.
But this BMW is not all about straight-line acceleration; in fact, its strength, as with the 1M, is in the handling department, where the little coupe clings to the road and delivers no end of gratification. The key here: a variable suspension system with electronically controlled dampers that respond to cornering forces and, unlike the M135i, a proper electronically locking limited-slip differential that keeps the rear wheels churning at the same time.
While the latest BMW is very fun to drive, it’s also very comfortable and quiet. Switch to Eco Pro mode and turn the fan and the audio system off – the loudest sound to be heard, by a long stretch, are the tyres thrumming along the surface of the road. Wind barely registers as a whisper. Switch the BMW back to Sport Plus mode, and the exhaust note deepens. Fantastic.
Perhaps the BMW M235i is not quite the monster as the old BMW M1 was, but that’s probably a good thing for those of us who remember its edgy behaviour and hard ride quality. Yet the addition of the rear LSD, a bit of extra power, and the lighter, tweaked coupe chassis combine to deliver a car that is even better than the superb M135i hatchback. You will pay for it when it arrives locally in March, though – the M235i costs $79,900, or $15K more than the M135i.
The BMW M235i will also be met in this very exclusive sub-segment by the Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG, together with the Audi S3, although they both offer four doors. The Audi is a smooth performer; the Mercedes is quicker and more extreme. But with a little bit from column A and a little bit from column B, we’re tipping that the BMW M235i will be the best of the bunch.